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Best Seller Provides Shocking Look into Lives of Chinese Farmers

In order to afford school, eleven-year-old Liu Xiaohuan (above), from Anhui, has to work for a brick production facility. Carrying 16 bricks weighing approximately 40 kilograms, Liu Xiaohuan has to walk a total of 140 meters, while earning only about 3.3 fen (~ 0.4 cent).

This is just one example of the many hardships faced by the farming communities today. Stories like this are beginning to gain more attention in various political and intellectual circles. “Three farming-related issues [1] [will be] the emphasis among all the most important government work [that will be done in the next five years]”, Premier Wen Jiabao announced in his government working report. It sounds like Wen has the determination to resolve these problems, but his focus is still unclear. Just what exactly are the “three farming-related issues”?

A Survey of Chinese Farmers, a new book that vividly describes the lives of farmers today, provides answers to this most pressing question. In the book, husband-wife authors Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao document numerous stories of farmers in rural Anhui Province suffering from poverty and injustices from abusive and supressive government officials.

At a time when people around the world were turning their eyes to the skyscrapers in the modern cities of Beijing and Shanghai, the release of the book this past Spring made quite a splash in society and shocked both the elite and public masses. The book soon claimed the best seller title after its debut with more than 100,000 copies flying off the shelves within a month in January!

Newspapers, journals and web sites were soon flooded with readers’ fervent comments.

“We have never felt such shock and pain!”

“We have been exposed to unbelievable poverty, crimes, miseries, helplessness, struggles and silence. We have never been so deeply touched and saddened.”

“As reporters, we have interviewed appealing farmers but could only give them helpless signs. Shame on us.”

The book boldly exposes the dark side of rural China which had largely been censored from media reports. The book unveils tragic stories of farmers being killed for exposing village cadres’ embezzlement, policemen beating farmers to death for protesting against heavy taxes and village cadres robbing farmers’ provisions.

In one account, a young farmer, Ding Zuoming, petitioned to audit the village account after suspecting that the village heads were embezzling the village members’ income. As a result, Ding was arrested and brutally beaten to death by local security personnel under the instruction of village leaders.
The brief benefit the farmers experienced from the economic reform in the early 1980s when the government contracted the land to them soon gave way to heavy taxes and inflation. Over the past 20 years, although the average income of farmers may have doubled or tripled, the heavy taxes imposed on them have increased nearly ten-fold. These increases have made it very difficult for many farmers to survive. It is now even more increasingly common to see disgruntled farmers clash with tax collectors, escalating their conflicts into bloody fights. Though police may be summoned to extinguish the conflict, it’s always the farmers who must suffer the consequences—sometimes paying for it with their own lives.

Implausible as it may sound for a poor, primitive village to become modernized overnight, continual attempts to realize this goal are continuing to be made by local officials trying to impress the top leaders of the central government by showing good results from new government policies. Farmers in “Xiao Gang village” of Fengyang county enjoyed such “prosperity” for three months when in 1998, Jiang Zemin, the then president, made an inspection trip to the village. The village, which couldn’t even afford to build a two-story house, was suddenly equipped with telephone lines and bathrooms in every house. All the homes were also repainted. The confused villagers soon found though, that their sudden fortune was but an illusion after the inspection was over.

The book lucidly depicts how the economic reform in the countryside has failed. After 20 years of stagnant “experimentation”, most Chinese farmers are still living in the most primitive conditions. In a country where 80% of its population (nearly 1 billion people) are composed of farmers, this issue can no longer be ignored.

Mr. Chen told Mingpao Newspaper that a conscientious writer or reporter would have no difficulty finding enough cases to expose the miseries and poverty of Chinese farmers. All it takes is a little more courage to risk reporting the actual facts.

In order to conduct the survey and write the report, Chen and his wife had to entrust their six-month-old son to a guardian. The project took them three years, to fifty counties in Anhui Province and all the 50,000 yuan left in their personal savings to finish the survey. Despite many difficulties, they persevered. To gain input from experts, they went to Beijing, where they were treated with disdain. However, they remained unwavering in their fearless mission to report farmers’ miseries and in publicizing names of involved government officials, from central government leaders to village officials.

The book’s highly acclaimed success, however, could do nothing to spare it’s life in the public domain. Revealing the dark side of the country is usually seen as an insult to authorities. The Propaganda Department inside the Communist Party of China suddenly prohibited further talk of the book just before the commencement of a new session of the National People’s Congress last March. The media’s silence on the topic immediately followed suit. The most popular website in China,, also withdrew the posting of the book and any webviewer’s comments. They are now facing a lawsuit of defamation by officials named in the book.
Wen’s promise is not novel in any way. The government has long been talking about improving farmers’ standard of living and varied “attempts” to resolve their problems but to no avail. In the end, talk is just “talk.” Concerned more with public image rather than true substance and action, not one government official has truly cared enough to really resolve the problem. Banning a book that provides the most honest look at the “three farming-related issues” will only deepen the distrust of the people upon the government—a serious problem Wen and his cohorts will have to eventually face.

[1]The three farming-related issues refer to issues of countryside, farmers and agriculture.
Levi Browde is a New York based commentator on China.

My Conscience Forbids Me from Keeping Silent Any Longer

About four years ago, I often ate out with the deputy head of a state-run enterprise, who was in charge of Party affairs. There were over 1,000 staff members in his company, and among them were three Falun Gong practitioners. He was assigned to be in charge of the Falun Gong "issue" at his company and to communicate directly with the "610 Office." One of his main responsibilities was to stop the three Falun Gong practitioners from going out to appeal in public.

Should they manage to appeal somewhere in a public place, his job required him to stop them and properly "take care" of them. At the beginning, he did not take this seriously. Because he did not want to offend others, he mainly "educated them with a thorough scolding" and used his best persuasive techniques. The three Falun Gong practitioners managed to get out twice. For this, he was severely criticized and given stern warnings. At a meeting, the head of the municipal Party committee warned him that if they managed to get out one more time, even if only one of them did, he would be immediately removed from his position.

As this deputy head was still young, he did not want to hinder his career by losing face at his workplace. But how could he make sure that they would not sneak out again? He said to us, "I’ve made up my mind. I told them and my subordinates very clearly that if they get out, no matter who it was, I would nail his feet to a wooden board." This comment made my hair stand on end. I asked him, "Is this really the right way to handle it? That’s against the law." He said, "Who cares?" Because we used to be classmates, I knew him quite well. He came from a rural background and was relatively kind and honest. I went on to ask him why he would treat people this way. He said, "I don’t see any alternative. I’m forced to do it.

I was concerned that those Falun Gong practitioners would be treated unlawfully, but found it hard to openly voice my concern. So I asked him in a roundabout way, "Are you allowed to kill them?" "No! Just need to keep them from running away." Then, I asked him, "Are they afraid of death?" "They are so stubborn, they are not afraid of death," he replied. Finally, I couldn’t restrain myself, "That’s right. They’re not even afraid of death, what else are they afraid of? You know, for those who are not afraid of death, even gods or ghosts would leave them alone. Your workplace is not a political organ, so you cannot kill them. You should be careful—what if the tables are turned later on and Falun Gong becomes acceptable again in our society? I wouldn’t take any chances. If the situation changes, and you have to ‘settle accounts,’ you will be the fall guy. I don’t think it’s smart to just obey the higher authorities because you’re afraid of losing your job. Who will look out for you when things change? So, listen to me, have mercy on people when you can, and don’t make them suffer too much." He was silent for a long time after hearing what I said. I don’t know if what I said to him had any effect, but after that the Falun Gong issue was never mentioned again.

I would never have believed it possible for a person with a kind and honest nature to be compelled to use cruel torture on people who simply wanted to go out to appeal, had I not heard it with my own ears. It is because of this personal experience and because I have heard and seen so much darkness in the judicial system, that when I read the following material I could only believe it was all too true:
“At Masanjia Labor Camp, the Falun Gong practitioners are stripped of their clothes in the winter and are then cuffed to a basketball stand. They are cuffed there until they pass out and their faces are covered with numerous frostbitten blisters. In the dark of the night, the practitioners are dragged to the restroom and brutally beaten for 12 days at a time, until the flesh on their legs swells by almost an inch and pus leaks from their wounds."

"The doctors at Xuzhou Mental Hospital forcefully tied practitioners to beds. Medical staff injected practitioners with large doses of unknown drugs. Right after the injections, they lost consciousness. When the drugs took effect, it was so painful that it felt as if their internal organs were being torn apart. After they regained consciousness, they questioned the medical staff, ‘Why did you give drugs to people who are not sick?’ The staff answered, ‘It is not up to us; people at the top instructed us to do so…’ They also said, ‘… Don’t leave the hospital on your own. If we don’t gradually reduce the dosage you will either go crazy or die. Even if you run away, people would treat you as an insane person and send you back here. The pain from the reaction of the drug is very scary and hard to imagine.’"

"The ‘610 Office,’ which specializes in persecution, has branch offices throughout the country. Its other activity is to hold countless brainwashing classes, glorified as ‘study sessions’ or ‘re-education schools.’ There, they arbitrarily abduct Falun Gong practitioners, deprive them of sleep and with threats of violence, force them to write statements guaranteeing that they will not practice Falun Gong. This kind of brainwashing, forcing people to go against their own consciences, is equivalent to robbing them of their souls. It’s even crueler than physical torture and destruction."

I believe after reading these stories, every Chinese reader has the feeling: "How inhuman! Falun Gong practitioners are our fellow countrymen; they are also citizens of the People’s Republic of China. They suffer bestial torture in their own country, and this has exceeded the boundary of conscience!"

What shames me is that this stunning and shocking persecution is taking place right in front of us! They die right in front of our eyes like Sun Zhigang [a college student who was beaten to death by police because he failed to present identification]! All of this is happening in our time! It’s happening in our country!

These innocent practitioners suffered brutality on the same scale as the Jewish people in the Nazi concentration camps, as the Chinese people who were tortured by the Japanese army during World War II, and as the people who were persecuted during the Cultural Revolution!

Did these people commit any true offense? Even if they did, should they be treated in such an inhuman way? I can say for sure that they were innocent, and they were victims of a political plot. The "610 Office" cannot escape responsibility for the fact that these people died such tragic deaths right under our noses, like Sun Zhigang did.
People like us who are familiar with what happened during the Cultural Revolution and the inhuman treatment people experienced in the birth-control movement such as "if you see a person drinking poison to commit suicide, do not wrestle the bottle from him; if you see a person hanging himself to commit suicide, do not help untie the rope."

In the last four years, I once believed the government’s propaganda attacking Falun Gong. I took an unconcerned attitude towards the Falun Gong issue and did not pay much attention to the inhuman suffering they were experiencing. I kept silent while they were being persecuted—which meant that I indirectly chose to conspire with the autocratic regime. Today, all of a sudden, I woke up to their tragic situation. I see that an enormous evil has been released and is still expanding. I feel shocked, and my heart and conscience are filled with guilt.

I feel I must break my silence and I want to loudly appeal to the intellectual circles and people who are on the Internet:

Kind-hearted Chinese people who are still silent, wake up! While you are keeping silent, the spirit of the Nazis has returned and usurped the power of our government, killing your countrymen with the most inhuman means. It is time we take action! It is time we offer the victims our helping hands! Voice your support to those unfortunate people who have the same civil rights as us! Say "No" to that huge beast. It is high time we end this miscarriage of justice.

(This article was originally published on July 26, 2003 at

Du Daobin was born in 1964. He is an Internet essayist living in Yingcheng city in the central province of Hubei. On June 11, he received a three-year prison sentence with four years suspended on charges of "instigating subversion."

Before his arrest, Mr. Du was an ordinary civil servant in the city’s Office for Medical Care Reform, but his name was well known in the Chinese-language cyberspace.  He began to write Internet essays in 2000 and has since authored over 388 Internet articles.  Among the popular Internet essayists in China, Du Daobin was the first to publicly criticize the "Three Represents," the first to publicly condemn the persecution of Falun Gong, and the first to successfully initiate cyberspace signature campaigns on such subjects. He is known as a prolific and influential writer.

Even though Du Daobin never held back his sharp tongue, he remained a civil servant inside the system and never advocated violence or revolution.  Many Chinese intellectuals regarded his arrest on October 28, 2003 as a chilling signal: the government would criminalize them for mere words.
Shortly after Du Daobin’s arrest, over 2000 Chinese individuals publicly signed names in a cyberspace campaign to free him. This is again a group action in which the Chinese people and Chinese intellectuals tried to protect their own rights within the existing legal framework—a new phenomenon often referred to as the "Civil Movement to Protect People’s Rights."

Media Faces Uphill Battle in China

In its march toward socio-economic reform, China seems to still fear one tool of a modern, open society: an independent media. Chinese media is strictly controlled and regulated by the government. International news agencies operating within China are on constant alert that their broadcast signals will be interrupted or blocked whenever something unfavorable happens to the Chinese Communist Party or whenever news occurs that the government doesn’t want the Chinese people to know about.

As global media vie for the huge Chinese market and accommodate government control, some have used the strategy of "self-censorship, self-restriction" to trade for limited access to China. According to Time Asia, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. has gone so far as to pay for a part-time advisor to CCTV International’s 24-hour English news channel in order to improve the image of the Mainland propaganda machine. CCTV International is just one offshoot of the massive, global Chinese Central Television operation, which manages 12 different channels.

China’s chokehold on the media has earned it dubious recognition as one of the 10 worst places in the world to be a journalist. In bestowing the "honor," the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) noted that in 2003, President Hu Jintao’s government "arrested high-profile editors, closed publications, and imposed news blackouts on politically sensitive events." Among the high profile arrests were three editors from Southern Metropolis News who were arrested earlier this year, soon after the paper published news of the reappearance of SARS in Guangdong province. As of May 3, World Press Freedom Day, China had 41 journalists imprisoned, "making it the world’s leading jailer of journalists for the fifth year in a row," according to the CPJ.

China’s intimidation of journalists is not limited to the mainland. Four of Hong Kong’s most popular talk show hosts recently resigned due to concerns over individual and family safety. Some cited death threats. The first was Albert Cheng, host of "Teacup in a Storm." He spoke about death threats and abruptly left Hong Kong for Europe on May 2. Then, Raymond Wong, who received a message warning him of "extermination by patriotic forces," and Allen Lee, Cheng’s replacement on the program, both resigned.

Independent media organizations do not fare well either in China, witness the experience of the New York-based New Tang Dynasty Television, or NTDTV. Founded by Chinese Americans, NTDTV is the first independent, non-profit Chinese-language television station. NTDTV has blazed a new, though arduous, path to China by beaming its programming directly to Chinese households via satellite. The difficulty it has experienced provides a case study worth watching.

Challenges to the New Launch

Since May 1 of this year, NTDTV has been accessible to satellite dish owners in China and other Asian areas through transmission on the W-5 satellite by the Paris-based Eutelsat. China’s control of satellite signal access is tighter than its control of individual dish ownership. NTDTV viewers can pick up reliable, good-quality signals with 60-90 cm satellite dishes in the southern part of Liaoning Province and the heavily populated eastern region of Gansu Province.
On June 9, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that the Foreign Ministry of France had confirmed that China had contacted it about NTDTV. China claimed that France’s Supreme Audiovisual Council (CSA) should deal with the issue independently. The CSA, which issued a broadcast license to NTDTV on March 30th of this year, told AFP that it had not been contacted by the French Foreign Ministry about the station.

NTDTV spokeswoman Carrie Hung thinks this is a test case for freedom of expression in China. "We know that the Chinese ambassador and diplomats have been meeting with the French government and with our commercial partner Eutelsat," she said. "We’re concerned that the broadcast will be cut off due to Beijing’s pressure."

According to Reporters Without Borders, the Netherlands-based satellite operator New Skies Satellites (NSS) had begun broadcasting NTDTV on an open signal to Asia on July 1, 2003. But just three days after the start of the broadcasts, under Beijing’s threat of financial retaliation, NSS encrypted the signal, thus preventing Chinese satellite dish owners from seeing the channel. NSS’ contract with NTDTV was terminated on May 1, 2004, after prolonged financial and political pressure from Beijing.

Similarly, at the start of 2004, Philippines satellite operator Mabuhay cancelled plans to transmit a special Chinese New Year broadcast after threats from the Chinese ambassador in Manila.

Tighter Control

About 40-to-60 million households in China have limited access to satellite broadcasts from abroad but the Chinese Department of Television and Broadcasting limits foreign satellite broadcasts to the Pearl River Delta, foreign residence complexes, and some hotels for foreigners.

When it came to license renewals for foreign broadcasters this year, the Department of Television and Broadcasting revised its rules to make foreign TV stations assume all responsibility and bear any losses in case of conflicts with Chinese media control policy. The clause is so vague that many media organizations have delayed renewing out of confusion and fear of unlimited responsibility and revenue loss from commercials if their broadcasts were cut.

Beijing’s Anxiety

According to NTDTV, its Chinese-language programs reach about 200 million viewers around the world. They say they dare to report the truth about China, including what Beijing tries by all means to cover up. NTDTV was the first Chinese-language media to report about SARS. While viewers of CCTV who believed its falsified reports were later shocked by the facts when they went to China, viewers of NTDTV had learned the truth about the epidemic. NTDTV also reports about the persecution of labor union organizers, religious groups, Falun Gong practitioners, and pro-democracy advocates.
Ironically, the free flow of information could benefit China’s reform and opening up process in the long run. Independent satellite broadcasts into China can help broaden people’s outlook, provide accurate economic and political information, and promote universal values for Chinese people, especially those in business and government, who may make a positive contribution to China’s plans and policies.

Terrence Chen, MBA, is a Washington DC based analyst who closely follows issues regarding the media in China.

Behind the Overheated Chinese Economy

Many scholars have noticed the current overheating of China’s economy, and a fiery debate is ongoing among the people who claim to be "China savvy" about the manner in which the high-flying economy will come back to earth: a soft-landing, a hard-landing, or even a crash landing? Mr. Wen Jiabao, China’s Premier, seems to be the person sitting in the cockpit of that proverbial Chinese airplane struggling to be grounded without too much impact. On April 28, 2004, Mr. Wen told Reuters that the country would take "very forceful action to cool its red-hot economy, since inflationary pressure was building due to a surge in money supply, credit and fixed investment." Whether Mr. Wen really meant business when he said that-and more importantly, if he did, whether he will ever have any chance to see his words translated into reality remains to be seen.

Overheated Chinese Economy

The National Development and Reform Commission released China’s total investment in the year 2003 as 1.6 trillion yuan (~$200 billion). This was about the same as the total investment of 2000, 2001 and 2002 added together. If you need a reference point to have any idea about the magnitude of those investments and the rate of their increase: China’s GDP of 2003 was only 1.16 trillion yuan (~$140 billion, according to official numbers released by the National Bureau of Statistics of China). As it turns out, those numbers are only a small part of the sizzling economy; when you go behind them, some more disturbing patterns emerge, indicating the breakneck boom is as much about the dollars spent on wasteful show-piece projects as about China’s sclerotic system.

After Hu Jintao became China’s President, most seats in the Politburo were still occupied by protégés of former President Jiang Zemin. What is more, Jiang had already placed many of his close allies into different key positions in the government in advance of that transition personally ordained by Deng Xiaoping. However, the two factions, of Hu-Wen and Jiang respectively, differ in their philosophies about economic growth—such as the priorities and strategies—and their interests vary too. In Jiang’s plans, Shanghai and the neighboring Jiangsu Province would have the priority, while Hu has picked the rust belt of Northeastern China (also known as Manchuria) as the new economic focus. But their similarities are just as evident: Both factions have aggressively resorted to exorbitant but doomed loans from state-owned banks to finance and sustain the boom. As a result, what we saw was a top-down chain reaction, as unbridled investments at the national-level bred provincial-level investments, which in turn trickled down to the city-level and the township-level.

The central government has made a practice of not releasing the number of investment projects. Some might guess that the government probably doesn’t track it to start with, given the insurmountable task of doing that. According to related administrative rules, projects under 500 million yuan (~$63 million) do not need to have mandates from the provincial level government. For example, the city of Changzhou, a medium-size boomtown on the Yangtze River can proceed with any projects of choice under 500 million yuan (~ $63 million). By the same reckoning, Nanjing, the capital city of Jiangsu Province with a population ten times larger, should be given the discretion to go ahead with any projects under $630 million; and Shanghai, one of the four directly governed cities in China, can freely work on any projects under $6,300 million. It is easy to see that China’s directly governed cities, its 27 provincial-level cities, its over 200 regional-level cities, its 400 town-level cities, and its over 2,000 town-level executive units have joined forces to form a vast pool of "sovereign" investments that are unknown to the mandarins at the central government.
Some China experts have estimated that China’s inflation is well within manageable areas as long as its currency in circulation is kept under 1,200 billion yuan (~$145 billion). Since the fourth quarter of 2003, China has experienced three waves of price surges, and the total amount of currency in circulation once peaked at around 6,000 billion (~ $727 billion). A quick, backward calculation would tell us how much those "sovereign" investments could be, for they are supposed to fill in the gap between those two divergent numbers—a hole of several trillion yuan.

Problem Solved?

It is no secret that both Hu and Wen are well aware of the complexity and the seriousness of an overheated economy. The conundrum facing the new leadership, however, is not the symptoms—and problems—of the economic fever but any prescription drug to cure it. A larger, Catch-22 question is: if there is such a drug, one that not only relieves the pain but kills the old patient to create a new, more robust one, are Hu and Wen ready to swallow it? And if they do, will Jiang and his Shanghai faction be willing to go along with it? Right now, the chest-thumping and empty rhetoric from above to cool down the economy is nothing but background noise to the special projects championed by the Shanghai (Jiang) faction. In reality, those projects are still going forward full blast, just as those special projects in Manchuria, darlings of Hu and Wen and their much-hyped New Deal, cannot be recalled or cancelled, either. As such, a question with Chinese characteristics would naturally come to mind: is this discussion about "economic landing" a healthy debate about economics, or another thinly-disguised game for power?

For all the talk, and uncertainties, about deflating any bubbles in the Chinese economy, one thing is certain, that is, it will be those millions of middle—and small—size private enterprises that bear the brunt of the sacrifice required by the "cool-down" measures fervently pitched by the Chinese leadership. Without any political clout, these private enterprises are at the bottom of the pecking order, and subject to unconditional "closure, suspension, or merger" as long as they need support from state banks. In contrast, those enormous special projects in Shanghai and Manchuria will continue to hurtle forward defiantly, although the consensus has it that China’s hope lies in its fast-growing private sector. Apparently, this paradox is not so much about Chinese economics as about the country’s engrained political culture.

Another likely, and ironic, victim of the policies to douse the heat in the economy will be Taiwanese business people throwing big money into all kinds of projects in China. During most parts of the 1990s, Beijing bent itself backward to jump-start its stalling reform program in the wake of the Tiananmen Massacre, when most western investors, still hounded by gory pictures on the TV, balked at doing business there. As it turned out, those Taiwan businessmen filled the void and received a lot of benefits, including preferential treatment in taxes. Now there are over 300,000 Taiwanese-funded enterprises in China. However, all indications suggest that Beijing no longer needs to be so sweet to Taiwan businessmen. The main reasons are as follows:

  • Most Taiwan businessmen do not have very strong political allies in China. Those who are in favor of the popular President Chen Shuibian are more vulnerable to economic penalties due to their political orientation.
  • For cultural and other reasons, much of the Taiwanese merchandise produced on the Mainland competes with similar Chinese products.
  • China is vigilant about its reliance on money pumping across the Taiwan Strait, as it could erode its firm stance against Taiwanese independence—right now a bargaining chip with the U.S.

Some shrewd businessmen from Taiwan have realized this, and have started to leave the Mainland. For the majority still refusing to come to terms with the reality, and to fold their business in China, it is only a matter of time before a trickle becomes a torrent that becomes a tidal wave, rolling for withdrawals from the Mainland. If they wait for too long—until next year or even later—they may not be able to recover the losses due to a hostile investment environment.

Why So Much Spending?

i. Waste

In China, because of poor management, most projects cost more than can be justified. Consequently, Return on Investment (ROI) of many special projects was zero or even negative. This problem was compounded by blind passions and thus poorly planned actions of many Communist functionaries aggressively promoting economic development as a way to promote their own political careers. They do not respect economic laws governing the market; all they want is statistics that give them the bragging right and the stepping stone for ascendance in the regime.

When former Party leader Zhao Ziyang resigned following the Tiananmen Massacre and Jiang Zemin took over, the reserves in the four major state-owned banks were over 1,300 billion (~$157 billion). After 15 years of breakneck development, or low-efficiency exploitation of resources reminiscent of the famed Schumpeterian growth theory, Chinese banks are now full of non-performing loans. In November 2001, the former chief of the People’s Bank of China (China’s central bank) Dai Xianglong openly admitted to the public that total loans of the four major banks were 680 billion (~$82 billion), among which non-performing loans accounted for about 20% and losses about 7%. This has resulted in none of the four largest state-owned commercial banks reaching the 8% Capital Adequacy Ratio stipulated by the Barsel Accord. On May 8, 2002, former Premier Zhu Rongji said at the National Financial Leadership Caucus, an internal meeting, that national loan losses were as much as 680 billion (~$82 billion). Since he didn’t have to lie at a meeting closed to the outside, this means the entire savings of Chinese citizens had been almost all gone by then.
At the beginning of the 1990s, there were about 110,000 state-owned enterprises (SOEs). In 1999, only 1,000 of them survived after being repeatedly resuscitated by state-owned banks. These survivors, mostly national champions carefully cultivated by the central government over the years, all weathered the storm that swept across the country between 1995 and 2001, when most SOEs, and the central government, finally accepted their fate to go bust. In fact, the losses of 680 billion yuan (~$82 billion) only refer to those stemming from bank loans; there are many other types of losses associated with those tens of thousands of failed SOEs that will never be known.

In addition to deficits of the four major banks, there are different types of debts of the government, for example:

4,000 billion yuan (~$500 billion) foreign debt;
6,000 billion yuan (~$727 billion) treasury bonds;
8,000 billion yuan (~$969 billion), deferred salaries of state-owned enterprises and social securities;
6,000 billion yuan (~$727 billion) local government debts.

Debts of the government are at least 24 trillion yuan (~$2.9 trillion). The total internal and external debts of the Chinese government are over 50 trillion yuan (~ $6 trillion). If the 1.3 billion of Chinese population have to share this debt now, each person needs to be responsible for 38,461 yuan, equivalent to $4,668. In comparison, China’s GDP in 2003 was 1.16 trillion yuan (~$140 billion).

ii. Corruption

A primary reason for overheated investment in China is rampant corruption. For a government official in charge of investments, an additional project means an additional source of kickbacks and extra power. There are about 60 million Communist Party members in China. Among them, about 6 million are cadres, or the functionaries supervising the rank-and-file members. The Stalinist system that was kept intact during the economic boom has enabled these cadres to be at the forefront in the drive to "get rich hilariously," as exhorted by Deng Xiaoping. Since it is always hard to draw a line between political and economic matters in China, these cadres, no longer called "party secretaries" but perhaps known as "CEOs" or "the Chairman of the board" to outsiders, take on all the trappings of a capitalist but still retain the unquestioned power accorded to them by the Party over every matter within their jurisdiction, whether it be a county or the whole country. Chinese law dictates that any officials who have more than 10,000 yuan (~$1,212) in inappropriate income are to be brought to trial. In the eyes of the masses, those officials with petty violations are only "small greed’s." There are millions of "big greed’s" that take bribes in millions of yuan. According to the Financial Times and other credible sources, in the past five years, over 10,000 corrupted officials in China took $450 billion out of the country, earning China the dubious distinction of number four (after Venezuela, Mexico, and Argentina) in capital loss from large numbers of high-ranking officials and their families fleeing with the country’s financial resources.

While it is common knowledge that the overheated Chinese economy is caused by excessive investments, the root cause for the country’s economic fever is systemic and intrinsic to its basic infrastructure. Before any substantial changes take place in China that allow it to take real “medicine”, such talks of a soft versus hard landing might be misleading. Remember, the Chinese economy is not yet a free-flying airplane seeking a better landing spot, but only a blip on the screen of a kid’s game machine that is monitored and completely controlled by much older tacticians whose motive and belief are at odds with each other and different from outside analysts. For them, effecting a soft-landing is as easy as producing a consistent 8% GDP growth rate as prescribed in the country’s five-year plan. So, when the Chinese economy finally achieves a landing, the real question is not whether it is "soft" or "hard," but whether it is real.

Li Ding is a Washington DC based economist.

The Multifaced Officials of Beijing

Since I can never quite figure out Beijing officialdom, I simply watch it as I would another indigenous performing art—Beijing Opera, with its fancy costumes, dramatic make-up, dazzling kongfu-style fighting, and high-pitched voices singing and talking in a dialect that few, including yours truly, can understand.

Rising from a junior male role or Xiaosheng, Chinese communist top leader Hu Jintao now masterfully plays the role of Laosheng, the leading actor as the middle-aged mandarin official but without the conventional beard.

And his partner, Premier Wen Jiabao, the man with the willowy figure, smooth manner, and quick tendency to shed tears, plays the leading actress, or Dan, a female role traditionally played by a male in Beijing Opera.

No Beijing Opera would be complete without the role of Chou, or comedy actor, who generally plays the role of a dim-witted and amusing character with blinking eyes and all the comic gestures. Who can play this better than Li Zhaoxing, the infamous, Red-Guard-style foreign minister?

At least I can figure out their roles. It’s those up-and-coming new stars who can sing in English that puzzle me the most.

Although the Taizidang, or princelings, the children of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) elite, still enjoy considerable inherited privileges, the new stars are those technocrats who understand the West and have mastered the multifaceted performing skills.

For example, Wang Huning, who emerged from his study of Western politics, was appointed as Jiang Zemin’s senior adviser. Xia Yong, an expert on Western law and human rights, became Hu Jintao’s top intelligence man.

More and more foreign-educated young hopefuls have been drawn into the power circle. Some are placed at the provincial and ministerial levels; some become senior advisers, some academic authoritative figures, and some big capitalists.

Unlike the old guys, these new players not only speak good English and know how to deal with Westerners, but also understand the art, the between-the-lines play of the Chinese language, as well as the underlying rules of the game in China’s power circle. They can switch between two languages, two cultures—like CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), slick and smooth. In private, they can open up to you and share secrets to make you feel that they are double agents inside CCP headquarters. But on stage, under the spotlight, they are the standard version of the official apologists.{mospagebreak}

Here are a few shining stars:

Zhou Ji, Minister of Education, received his master’s and Ph.D. degrees from State University of New York back in the 1980s. He’s known for putting on a good show in front of visiting Western delegations or whenever he visits Western countries to pledge his commitment to learning from Western educational systems. And he frequently sponsors Sino-American academic exchange programs, such as the first "Exhibit of China’s 21st Century Higher Education" in the United States.

But he’s also infamously known for his iron fist in controlling the thinking among China’s college faculties and students. He’s responsible for censoring college Internets and shutting down popular forums and websites in over a dozen colleges, including Beijing University and Tsinghua University.

Min Weifang, the Stanford-educated CCP Secretary at Beijing University, who also completed his postdoctoral research at the University of Texas and was once assistant to the university president, considers turning the university into a CCP tool as his governing mission. It was he who fired Professor Jiao Guobiao, an outspoken activist, and openly vowed "to sweep any reactionary speeches out of the classrooms!"

Li Xiguang, dean of the College of Journalism and Communication at Tsinghua University, has demonstrated his bilingual acting skills on both sides of the Pacific. When he’s in the States, he lectures and writes papers in English on freedom of the press, which has made him a popular guy, well-known among his American audience for being such an open-minded professor at the most prestigious university in China.

But back in China, lecturing and writing in Chinese, the same Professor Li is also known for demonizing the United States. He openly calls for restriction of freedom of speech on the Internet, and thus has won himself the notorious "Apologist for Speech Censorship" by Chinese Internet users.

It is of small wonder that, other than providing a fancy resume and a stepping-stone to rapid success, Western education and democracy have done little for these people.

And there is no need to worry about the reserves. There are those college students who claim to be "patriotic and angry youth." Living in the campus utopia, their patriotism, no matter how strong, never stands in their way of pursuing an opportunistic lifestyle.{mospagebreak}

They can loudly protest in front of the U.S. Embassy today and come back tomorrow to wait in line for a student visa. They don’t think there is anything incongruous between the two acts, as both are genuine in their perspectives. They can be genuinely angry when they curse the Americans, and they are more genuinely jubilant on their flight to Harvard. No moral burdens. Whatever feels good and works for the moment is considered a smart move.

This is what is currently at play among the modern, multifaced officialdom of China—conflicting but in concert. The sharp difference between public showcase and private behavior, comic acting and tragic reality, patriotism and Western-worship, is magically in cahoots with people’s cynical lifestyles. The greed for profit and the ruthless approach lead to callous indulgence and lavish spending.

Indeed, it’s too complicated for me. Life is much simpler when I watch the "American Idol" show or vote for the shoot-from-the-hip kind of politician.

Liu Xiaobo is a freelance writer in Beijing.

Translated by CHINASCOPE.

“Suicide Rabbit” Cartoon Hugely Popular with Chinese Internet Surfers

To know what young Chinese like or don’t like these days, the best bet is to find the answer on the Internet instead of using a poll. By the end of 2006, there were 843,000 Chinese websites with 140 million people regularly going online, making China’s Internet usage the second largest in the world. What’s more, surfing the Internet has become the No. 1 way for most young Chinese to spend their leisure time.

Recently, a cartoon series called "Suicide Rabbit" has emerged as a new Internet star and become hugely popular among Chinese Internet surfers. Since the first "Suicide Rabbit" cartoon was posted on the forum of the Tianya website (, Tianya is the Chinese word for skyline) on August 17, 2006, it has attracted hundreds of thousands of Chinese Internet viewers and has constantly generated a record volume of new hits.

The idea of "Suicide Rabbit" came from British cartoonist Andy Riley’s popular work "Bunny Suicide." On the Internet, it even uses the Chinese name for "Bunny Suicide." The cartoon portrays a rabbit with sunglasses that always seeks to commit suicide at various spots that have social relevance.

The author is a 35-year-old cartoonist from Beijing. He uses the nickname "Right-Hand-Cartoon" as his signature. All his works are closely related to social news events, with the exception of "politically intolerable topics." Using a satirical and humorous manner, the author successfully reveals social problems of public concern in a way that the character gets people’s sympathy.

For example, one time when the rabbit wanted to commit suicide, he injected himself with xinfei. [Editor’s note: xinfei is the Chinese name for clindamycin, a common antibiotic in clinical use. Due to the manufacturer’s poor quality control, the medicine caused seven accidental deaths. The public was in an uproar, demanding punishment for those creating the fake products that are so rampant in China.]

In another case, the rabbit stands high up on a truck that surpasses the height limit when the truck passes under a bridge. The regulation of transportation is so chaotic in China that many don’t bother to follow the rules, although they are, for the most part, strictly enforced. In another instance, the rabbit lies on the hot ground during last summer’s unprecedented drought in Chongqing, exposing itself to the sun. In another, the rabbit intentionally falls into a manhole. In China, people steal the manhole covers and sell them as used metal for a tiny profit, leaving the holes uncovered, and so on, and so forth.

Every episode draws on the familiarity of real-life situations, and reflects a true social problem that requires serious attention and solution.{mospagebreak}

The cartoon has not only attracted viewers but also invited heated discussion over the satirized topics. Some believe that the popularity of "Suicide Rabbit" on the Internet results from people’s desire to openly criticize the circumstances of today’s modern life in China. Others think it is a reflection of the limited avenues of escape from today’s highly stressful metropolitan life. In the cartoon, they find a way to release the pressure. Still others believe that the cartoon gives a hint that death is a kind of release. If a person already has thoughts of committing suicide, it could be dangerous. So the topic is only suitable for adults, not for adolescents.

As a matter of fact, "Suicide Rabbit" is not the only Internet cartoon that has intrigued Internet surfers. Since last June, many other Internet cartoon themes have come forward, one after another. They have even become a main theme on many Internet forums. A few other topics such as "Modern Embarrassments" and "Wanton Village," topics that describe the trivial stories of ordinary people’s daily lives, have also had tremendous success.

Can Sun is a correspondent for Chinascope.

Eight-Year-Old Girl Baby-Sits Her Brother at School

The typical winter weather in Guizhou Province (southwest China) is gloomy and rainy. the sunshine barely lasts for three days in a row. On a slippery village road near the Moon Mountain area, seeing a young girl carrying a boy on her back to school is a common sight.

On June 24, 2006, China’s Today Morning Express newspaper published the story of such a girl. Her name is Ning Yuexiang, a fourth grader at the Dadong Elementary school in Yongli County. She is eight years old, and the boy she carries on her back is her two-year-old brother.

She started washing clothes at the age of four. At age five, she climbed hills with her father to chop wood, which is a source of fuel supply for daily cooking. She started taking care of her six-month-old baby brother at six years of age so that her mother could work on the farm.

the first time Ning Yuexiang took her brother to school, he cried in the classroom. the next day she was upset and went to school alone. After school, she realized that her brother had been crying at home for the whole day. Since then, she has been carrying him to school every day.

Her father often works away from home, and her mother takes care of the farm. Her grandmother is over 90 years old. After school, Ning Yuexiang’s daily chores consist of taking care of her brother, doing housework, washing clothes, and feeding the pigs.

Ning Yuexiang’s home is a three-room, two-story building mostly made of locally available wood. the partitions of the house are broken. the cooking stove, situated in the middle room, is surrounded by plastic sheeting to block the mountain breezes. the pig pen is located at the right. the upper floor is where the family sleeps and stores grains. the floor squeaks whenever someone walks.

the story may sound improbable in metropolitan cities such as Beijing or Shanghai, but in the remote countryside many children may even fare worse than little Yuexiang. As one of her teachers says, "She is lucky that she can make it to school."

When asked if life is hard, Yuexiang says no. She also says that she is not tired as long as her brother is not crying, and that shets happy when he is with her.

But when asked about how hard she has to study to go to college, she showed sadness on her face. Yuexiang is never late to school and has been getting excellent grades. Being able to go to college one day is her biggest wish. She worries whether her father will be able to afford the tuition.

Lily Qu is a correspondent for Chinascope.